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Following Assange Bust, Trump Claims ‘I Know Nothing About Wikileaks”

File this one on the list of Trump’s biggest, most absurd lies.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing,” Trump said Thursday after the group’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in London. “I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange.”

However, during the 2016 campaign, Trump praised WikiLeaks more than 140 times in the final month of the campaign alone, after the group published emails that were stolen from top aides working on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Trump’s totally non-believable distancing from WikiLeaks is as transparent as it gets.

Assange is facing extradition to the United States as part of his role in a 2010 leak of classified U.S. documents. He helped publish hundreds of thousands of classified documents leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, then an intelligence analyst in the Army.

Assange isn’t charged with publishing the classified material. Instead, he faces federal conspiracy charges for allegedly working to help Manning hack into the government database to obtain the classified documents, as the Department of Justice announced in a news release:

During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”

This is not the first time Trump has lied about knowing controversial or downright criminal figures.

Trump received flack for refusing to disavow noted racist and former Klan leader David Duke, claiming in February 2016 that he didn’t “know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”

After a major backlash, Trump finally disavowed Duke.

Trump also tried to distance himself from his top campaign aides, such as Paul Manafort, and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who both got sentenced to prison as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Trump claimed Manafort was on his campaign “for a  very short period of time,” despite the fact that Manafort was there for a crucial period of the GOP primary, including the Republican National Convention.

And after news broke of Cohen’s illegal campaign finance scheme that Trump was implicated in, Trump tried to claim that Cohen was “one of many lawyers” who represented him, even though Cohen was his personal lawyer and “fixer” for many years.

As he demonstrates on a near-daily basis, Trump incessantly spews lies with ease. His lie that he doesn’t know anything about WikiLeaks is one of his worst lies yet.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Before Leaving Office, Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s Prison Sentence

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In one of his final acts before leaving office, President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. military intelligence analyst behind the biggest breach of classified materials in U.S. history, the White House said.

Manning has been a focus of a worldwide debate on government secrecy since she provided more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables, and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks – a leak for which she was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison.

Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.

Manning, who is held at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, military prison, accepted responsibility for leaking the material, and has said she was confronting gender dysphoria at the time of the leaks while deployed in Iraq. Her sentence will now expire on May 17, the White House said.

Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when she gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts that included a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.

Her attorney had argued her sentence exceeded international legal norms, and she has twice attempted suicide.

(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)

IMAGE: Chelsea Manning is pictured in this 2010 photograph obtained on August 14, 2013.Courtesy U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS

Presidential Pardons: Obama Picks Up The Pace On Commutations

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Near the start of his second term, President Obama had granted clemency at a lower rate than any president in recent history. He had pardoned 39 people and denied 1,333 requests. He had used his power to commute a prisoner’s sentence just once.

But as Obama enters the final days of his administration, he has dramatically picked up the pace. He’s now issued commutations to 1,176 people since entering office — more than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan put together. In December, Obama commuted the sentences of 231 people in a single day.

Much of Obama’s increased activity can be attributed to an initiative begun in 2014 to shorten sentences of non-violent offenders who would likely have received less time for their crimes under current law and who had already served at least 10 years of their prison sentences. Low-level drug offenders have received most of the commutations, part of a broader push by the administration to reform sentencing guidelines.

“Historically, clemency has been used to heal national wounds after a war,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who started the first federal commutations law clinic. “There was a big batch of grants during and after the Civil War, after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — and in a way, Obama is doing it after the War on Drugs.”

While Obama’s commutation numbers have accelerated, they do not, as the White House has put in press releases, exceed those of the last 11 presidents combined, Osler pointed out. Gerald Ford put together a clemency board in 1974 specifically looking to pardon Vietnam War draft dodgers. In just a year, the board reviewed 31,500 petitions and recommended clemency for 13,603.

Presidents have broad power to forgive federal offenses. Pardons and commutations don’t erase convictions, but pardons “forgive” a crime and can restore rights such as voting and remove hiring barriers. Commutations reduce sentences but do not restore rights such as voting.

To determine who receives clemency, Obama, like his predecessors, relies on recommendations from the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the arm of the Justice Department that reviews applications. A would-be petitioner is eligible for a pardon after a five-year waiting period and must fill out a lengthy petition. Clemency petitions makes their way through seven different layers of review and four separate federal buildings. As he’s granted almost 1,200 requests for commutations, Obama has denied 14,485, according to Department of Justice statistics.

It’s a slow process that’s not designed to handle the current federal prison population, said New York University School of Law professor Rachel Barkow, who serves as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. That’s one reason Obama’s clemency push has fallen short of Ford’s.

“I think he tried to use the existing structure to do something that really hadn’t been done before, and it think the structure just struggled,” Barkow said. “There’s not enough people to deal with it, there was too much bureaucracy and it shouldn’t be in the DOJ. It’s asking too much to ask prosecutors to rethink what they already did.”

Paul Larkin, who directs the Heritage Foundation’s project on criminal law, suggested that Obama first tried to address the problem of mandatory minimums by sending guidelines through Congress. The legislative efforts resulted in the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which increased the thresholds of drug amounts to trigger mandatory minimum sentences.

But the act didn’t apply retroactively, so Obama has turned to clemency.

“He waited until way too late to start,” Larkin said. “He should have started right then and there exercising his clemency power.”

Larkin, too, suggested moving the clemency process out of the Department of Justice — away from prosecutors who brought cases against the petitioners in the first place — and putting it in the White House, headed by the vice president.

Obama pardoned 78 people one day last month, but has still issued fewer pardons than his predecessors. Likely, Osler said, the pardon attorney’s resources have been taken up with commutations. Obama also has so far sidestepped pardon requests for Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, the most politically charged cases likely to cross his desk. He has given no indication that he’ll grant pardons to either.

The pardons process came under scrutiny in a 2011 ProPublica investigation which found that white applicants seeking presidential pardons were four times as likely to get them as minorities, even when applicants had committed similar crimes. An analysis of about 500 pardons issued during the George W. Bush’s administration found that advocacymade a difference, especially by those with political connections. Support from a member of Congress substantially increased the chance of a pardon.

In one case, our investigation found, the former Pardon Attorney, Ronald Rodgers, had left out crucial evidence in his recommendation to the Bush administration to deny one petitioner’s appeal for a commutation. Rodgers was replaced as pardon attorney and the prisoner’s sentence was commuted in 2014.

After ProPublica’s investigation, the Department of Justice funded a study to examine the role of race in the pardons process. The results were supposed to have been released in 2015. DOJ officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the status of the study, saying only that new pardons data was under review and “a report should be available in fall 2017.”

The incoming Trump administration seems unlikely to continue Obama’s push to commute sentences of low-level drug offenders. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick to head the DOJ, has vocally supported mandatory minimums and harsh drug laws. Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not respond to a request for comment.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to reporters during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City in this July 16, 2015 file photo.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/Files

Why Transgender People Are Drawn To The Military

By Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As a young psychiatry resident at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the 1980s, Dr. George Brown was surprised the first time he saw a transgender patient.

Estimates at the time were that for every 100,000 biological males in the general population, no more than three were transgender.

Brown figured the rate had to be even lower in the all-volunteer military. It made little sense to him that a transgender person would choose to join an institution that by its nature had no tolerance for deviance.

Yet over the next three years, Brown saw 10 more transgender patients — all of them seeking hormone therapy and male-to-female gender reassignment surgery. He began to suspect that the military, despite its ban on allowing transgender people to serve, was somehow attracting them at a disproportionately high rate.

The Pentagon is now weighing whether to lift its ban on transgender service members and is expected to do so next year. As the policy is reviewed, researchers are citing evidence that bears out Brown’s hunch of three decades go.

Transgender people are present in the armed services at a higher rate than in the general population.

The latest analysis, published last year by UCLA researchers, estimated that nearly 150,000 transgender people have served in the military, or about 21 percent of all transgender adults in the U.S. By comparison, 10 percent of the general population has served.

The findings have pumped new life into a theory that Brown developed to explain what he had witnessed. In a 1988 paper, he coined it “flight into hypermasculinity.”

His transgender patients told him that they had signed up for service when they were still in denial about their true selves and were trying to prove they were “real men.”

“I just kept hearing the same story over and over again,” said Brown, 58, now a professor at East Tennessee State University and a specialist in gender identity issues at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Mountain Home, Tenn.

Some patients had deliberately chosen the military’s most dangerous jobs. In one case described in the paper, a 37-year-old patient with a long history of cross-dressing had been a laboratory technician on a base in Germany but gave that up to become a combat helicopter pilot at the height of the Vietnam War, a job with a high death rate.

Colene Simmons, 60, says she is one of Brown’s longtime patients. She started life in rural Georgia as O’Day Simmons. A 185-pound champion wrestler in high school, Simmons protected other students from bullies and had no problem getting girlfriends.

But the tough exterior belied inner fantasies.

Simmons had escaped a physically abusive father and grown up in a Christian group home.

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” the house mother said after discovering Simmons trying on a curtain as if it were a dress.

As the demons grew stronger, Simmons enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the hope of fighting them off. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was a man,” she explained.

Stationed at Camp Geiger, N.C., in the late 1970s, Simmons occasionally left the base and drove 80 miles to a thrift store to buy women’s clothes and check into a motel room alone to play dress-up.

Simmons later married and had two children, but that could not erase her feelings any more than spending four years in the military.

She eventually underwent hormone therapy and surgery and legally changed her name. Remarried to another woman, she considers herself a lesbian. They live in rural northeast Tennessee.

“Colene doesn’t talk much about the military,” said Jane Simmons, her wife.

For all the attention gender identity has received recently — including Olympian Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn Jenner and Army Pvt. Bradley Manning’s emergence as Chelsea Manning after being convicted of leaking classified documents — even the size of the transgender population is open to wide speculation.

The U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data to determine it, so researchers must extrapolate from other, smaller surveys.

In 2011, Gary Gates, research director at UCLA’s Williams Institute, which is devoted to public policy questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation, estimated that 3 of every 1,000 U.S. adults are transgender — at least 100 times the presumed rate in the 1980s.

Figuring out how many transgender people serve in the military is even harder, because they can be kicked out if they reveal themselves.

“We’re working largely in a vacuum,” Gates said.

His estimates are based on demographic tweaks to the results of a 2008 nationwide survey of more than 6,500 transgender people that was conducted by activist groups.

Among those assigned male at birth, Gates found that 32 percent had served in the military, compared with 20 percent of men in the general population who had served.

For those assigned female at birth, that figure was 5.5 percent, compared with 1.7 percent of all women.

Other measures suggest even bigger differences between transgender people and the rest of the population in terms of military service.

In 2011, nearly 23 out of every 100,000 patients in the VA system had a diagnosis of gender identity disorder, which is used to describe gender identity issues that lead to significant levels of psychological distress and has been associated with high suicide risk.

That’s five times the rate in the general population.

The comparison comes with a caveat. In 2011, the VA began providing hormone therapy and other nonsurgical treatment for transgender patients, a strong motivation for some people to seek a diagnosis.

Though Brown developed his theory around male-to-female transgender service members, the draw of a hypermasculine environment may also help explain why female-to-male transgender people join the military.

The theory has been a topic of debate among activists and researchers. Although most say it has validity, some worry that its simplicity undermines the full humanity of transgender people.

“It dehumanizes the community and reduces it to this narrative,” said Jake Eleazer, a transgender veteran and doctoral student in psychology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

He and others point out that there are many reasons transgender people join the military: adventure, money for college, family tradition and other factors that attract all recruits.

They also say it is possible that transgender people are more likely to have certain traits or skills that draw them to service, or that on the whole they are socio-economically disadvantaged, discriminated against or rejected by their families in a way that leaves them fewer other options.

But there is not enough data to test those ideas.

Whatever the reasons that transgender people join, their presence has become one of the government’s most powerful arguments for lifting the ban.

“Transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a July statement announcing that the Pentagon would review the ban starting with the premise that it should be rescinded.

Brown predicted that even if the ban is lifted, the military will continue to attract transgender 18- to 20-year-olds who have yet to come to terms with their true selves.

As a place to hide, consciously or subconsciously, the military, with its order and uniformity and prohibitions on self-expression, may be unrivaled.

Jennifer Long, who joined the Army in 1983 as Edward Long, managed to suppress her feminine identity for her first 22 years of duty as a drill sergeant, paratrooper and security official at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“You’re in very gender binary roles,” she said. “It doesn’t leave any room. There’s no gray area.”

Eventually, though, she could no longer run from herself. After a second divorce in 2005, Long attempted suicide.

“You want to make it all go away,” she said. “You can’t be who you want to be.”

Then Long started meeting other transgender people online and dressing as a woman off-duty in the evenings and on the weekends.

After a deployment to Iraq in 2008, she began taking hormones with plans to leave the military and live openly as a woman. A combat duty assignment in Afghanistan delayed her retirement until 2012.

Now 50, Long lives in New Jersey and works as a financial adviser.

“If I could have remained on duty, I would have,” she said.

Photo: Chelsea Manning is one of many male-to-female transgender adults who have served in the military. Many have said they joined the military to be in a hypermasuline environment — but it did not stem their feminine urges. torbakhopper/Flickr